Chapter 39: Flesh and Blood

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As the Dionysian lifted off the ground, Leta dug noisily through a drawer for bandages and salve, preparing the infirmary for her needy patient. She wondered if it was even worth the effort. After all, Fiearius never came here when she told him to — she was always forced to treat his wounds in the bridge, or in the hallway, or wherever she could catch him for a few minutes before he growled that he hated doctors and stalked off.

But then, amazingly, just as she shut the drawer and looked up, he appeared in the doorway. He looked even worse than she remembered: he was decidedly unsteady on his feet, like he could collapse any moment. Blood caked his whitened skin and bits of glass glinted in his hair as he simply gazed at her with distant eyes.

It was hard to look at him. Images of him thrashing in the bar were vivid in her mind. Leta swallowed hard in her throat and nodded toward the exam bench, which he agreeably limped to, lowering himself achingly slowly to the edge. Meanwhile, Leta moved forward and closed the door. Whatever would be said between them … well, they didn’t need an audience.

Then, her eyes downcast, she moved toward him, her patient. She dampened a cloth and began to clean the deep cuts on his arms.

He sat obediently while she worked in silence, gently cleaning his hands, the beds of his nails. He’d never been such a good patient before: for once, he had no protests to give.

The cloth was soon a vivid red. She could think of nothing to say. If she started, she was afraid anger or grief would overwhelm her. The tension between them was palpable; a blind man could have seen it. Several minutes of silence passed until, at last, Fiearius spoke.

“Do you think there were others?” His voice was hoarse. “Besides Alyx. Others on the ship.”

It was the question Leta had not wanted to consider, horrifying and nauseating as it was. Her stomach plummeted sickly. For a moment, her hands froze in place on his wrist.

“I don’t know,” she said quietly, relieved to hear her voice was steady with determination. “But I’ll find out. I’ll speak with the deckhands … and make sure they’re taken care of. That everyone gets the treatment they need.”

“Thanks. I–” He cut himself off with a half-hearted bitter laugh. “You’re right. Maybe I am unapproachable. For this to–to slip past me for…gods know how long…”

Shame radiated from him. His eyes dropped back to the floor. Leta’s throat burned again, her mind on Alyx, the unspeakable trauma she experienced and would have to relive for the rest of her life. And she may not have been the only one …

“He’s gone now,” Leta managed at last, her throat tight. “Ludo, he’s — he’s gone.”

Fiearius nodded his head, but his eyes were still fixed on the floor. “Yeah, he is. Very. Very gone.” A shadow fell over his face and he averted his gaze even further from her. “Sorry you — you had to see that,” he muttered, his voice growing quiet. “I’m sure it wasn’t pretty…”

Leta raised her eyebrows in disbelief. The scene in the bar was another issue altogether. Seeing Fiearius really lose it …. it was as if he had no control over himself. This time, Leta purposely halted in her work and stared at him.

“What was that, Fiear?” she demanded quietly. “I’ve never seen you like that.”

Fiearius snorted grimly. “I wish I knew.”

“It was like — some sort of episode,” she muttered. “Do you –  go to the edge like that often?”

“Not really. Not recently anyway … “

A tense, stiff silence unfolded. They seemed trapped inside it. Leta assumed the conversation was over, and she picked up another bandage — but to her surprise, Fiearius kept talking.

“It used to happen more often,” he said abruptly, scratching at his temple and staring wide-eyed at the floor. “More often than I care to admit. Dez used to say it was just in my nature. As if that was comforting. Doctors told me it was some kind of dissociative disorder. Aela–she thought it was an effect of the Flush. And for a long time I agreed with her.”

Leta paused, expecting an explanation. “Flush? What’s Flush?”

Fiearius hesitated, searching for the right words. “They said it was medication. Every 1st division agent in Internal Affairs was on it. It was practically requirement. It was just this tiny insignificant pill you took when things got too much to handle. It–it’s hard to explain what it does fully. But it makes you sharper. Faster. More focused. Wounds aren’t as painful when you’re on it. Danger’s not as scary. Flush makes you believe you’re invincible. Even when you’re two inches from death.”

Surprise ran through her. It wasn’t surprising that Fiearius was drugged out of his mind in his younger years, but she assumed it would have been for recreational purposes. She’d never heard of Flush, but it sounded … horribly effective.

“But you’re not on Flush anymore,” Leta prompted, a hint of questioning in her voice.

“No, I’m not,” he replied simply. “I thought the…episodes…would stop after it was out of my system. And they did. For a long time. The theory seemed to hold true.”

Leta waited, looking over his face. She had the sense Fiearius wanted to say more, until finally —

“But then it happened again,” he confessed quietly. “First month on the ship. Something went wrong. I don’t even remember what. But there was another — like you said, episode. All I remember is coming out the other side, looking a lot like I do right now.” He raised his hands and looked down at himself, disgusted. “And Cyrus. Looking a lot like you did.” He looked up at her, his eyes slightly narrowed. “And that wasn’t the only time, clearly.”

Leta searched over his face, the cuts and bruises marring his skin, and she breathed suddenly, “Well you almost got yourself killed this time.” She looked down, tugging a bandage tight across his wrist. “We can’t let this happen again.”

Fiearius grunted a sad, one-note laugh. “Wasn’t intentional.”

“I’m not blaming you.” She flicked her eyes up to his in earnest. He didn’t meet her gaze. “I’m saying, we won’t let this happen again. I won’t let it. Because I need you, Fiear, I really do. Alright?”

The words tumbled forth before she could stop them. It was a heavier confession than she intended, and she had no idea where it had come from. It stunned her, and clearly, it stunned Fiearius. For the first time, Fiearius lifted his gaze and stared at her, his eyes softening curiously as he glanced over her face.

Her hand momentarily closed around his wrist, hardly noticing how stained her fingertips became with fresh crimson from his skin. Suddenly, she felt exposed, vulnerable, and she hurried to remedy it.

“And that’s the only time you’ll ever hear me say that,” she continued, more lightly, hoping very much that was true, “so — enjoy it.”

After a pause, he seemed to recover from his surprise, and offered a small laugh. “Well ain’t you sweet. Tell ya what I’d really enjoy though?” He glanced over at her tiredly. “A nice strong drink. Maybe if I down it quickly enough I’ll forget this day ever happened.”

If Fiearius was offering them a way out of the awkwardness, she had to feel grateful for that. Looking up, she heaved a sigh. “You really shouldn’t drink in your condition, you know,” she told him, but nonetheless she turned around, opened a medicine cabinet and withdrew a full bottle of aged whiskey, the one she always kept stashed nearby for — well, for exactly this, really.

Fiearius raised his brows in surprise. “Okay, for one, I was mostly kidding and two, what the hell you doing storing that in here?”

“It’s for emergencies,” said Leta, as if she’d never been asked something so odd in her life. “But … if you’re not interested … “

“Oh no, no,” he amended quickly, reaching out his hand and pulling it from her hand. “Didn’t say I didn’t want it.”

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